Now we are ready to look at something pretty special.
It is a duck riding the ocean a hundred feet beyond the surf.
No, it isn’t a gull.
A gull always has a raucous touch about him.
This is some sort of duck, and he cuddles in the swells.
He isn’t cold, and he is thinking things over.
There is a big heaving in the Atlantic,
And he is part of it.
He looks a bit like a mandarin, or the Lord Buddha meditating under the Bo tree,
But he has hardly enough above the eyes to be a philosopher.
He has poise, however, which is what philosophers must have.
He can rest while the Atlantic heaves, because he rests in the Atlantic.
Probably he doesn’t know how large the ocean is.
And neither do you.
But he realizes it.
And what does he do, I ask you? He sits down in it.
He reposes in the immediate as if it were infinity – which it is.
That is religion, and the duck has it.
He has made himself part of the boundless,
by easing himself into it just where it touches him.
I like the little duck.
He doesn’t know much.
But he has religion.
-Donald Babcock, The Lyfe Poems of Donald Babcock
In the interview Butler addresses why he smashed his guitar on Saturday Night Live a couple weeks ago (it was cutting him and he hated it) and speaks about society and religion today (not to mention how much being a kid sucks). He sounds smart and thoughtful and it goes a long way to helping me forget the smashing of the guitar – plus I really love their new album Neon Bible and their show a couple years ago was among the top 2 or 3 concert experiences of my life.
Here is something he told the interviewer at the very end of the interview that strikes a chord with me because it captures a big part of why I am so angry with the way things are going in our country and in me.
When you read Martin Luther King’s speeches about Vietnam, it could be today. Just change the word, and you’re talking about the exact same situation. We’re basically causing spiritual death in our country by doing what we’re doing. At a certain point, you become morally unable to do good in the world, because the country gets so cynical and depressed, there isn’t the force of will to try and change things. I definitely feel that in my generation, this kind of fatigue. And I feel that myself. You’ve got to fight it.
An article in yesterday’s Star Tribune stirred my pot a bit and got me thinking about the cartoon degrading the Prophet Mohammed and the ensuing uproar, hand-wringing, and torching of embassies. In the article, the owner of my favorite Middle Eastern deli, Holy Land in NE Minneapolis, takes the issue to heart in much the same way much of the Muslim world did and posted the following in his establishment:
Dear Customer. The Denmark newspaper published a cartoon degrading the Prophet Mohammed. The Denmark government refuses to apologize to the Muslim world for this; therefore Holy Land management decided to join the other business leaders in the world to boycott all products made in Denmark.
In the article, Holy Land owner, Majdi Wadi claims that if some of his patrons (a diverse bunch to be sure) have an issue with his boycott, they should come talk with him. He even says if they can convince him to change his mind he will take the signs down.
I respect freedom of speech,” he continued, “but I think there must be limits. I think there should be an international law to protect beliefs. It is wrong not to respect Jesus. It is wrong not to respect Buddha. And it is wrong to not respect the Prophet Mohammed.
Now I would love to go and speak with Mr. Wadi, but being Minnesotan, there is a pretty good chance that confrontation will never occur. So instead, in typical passive-aggressive (aka “Minnesota nice”) fashion, I will lay out why Holy Land should reverse its policy and why I am now boycotting one of my favorite markets.
- The boycott is asking for something from the wrong people. It wrongly states that “The Denmark newspaper” published these cartoons. It was the Jyllands-Posten. The Danish government is not, nor should it be, under any obligation to apologize for the free speech, its citizens make use of.
- The boycott targets the wrong people. Don’t buy the newspapers and magazines that printed the degrading cartoons. What do the people who make chocolate and cheese have to do with these cartoons other than living in the same country? Only 150,000 (of more than 5 million) Danish people even see the Jyllands-Posten newspaper each day.
- When people start to decide what the limits of free speech are, then we are all in trouble. You cannot protect beliefs with laws against speaking out against such beliefs. What if my belief is that Quentin Tarantino was a prophet? Does that make claims that some of his movies suck ass, blasphemy?
- Living in America means that you may, if you choose, practice freedom of speech and must also be tolerant of others rights to do so. Presumably that is one of the main draws, bringing countless hopeful immigrants to this country each year from places, like Vietnam, China, and yes, even the Middle East – places where it isn’t always acceptable to speak your mind.
When I first saw a link to this article I really did not want to follow it. What do I care, I thought, what Penn of Penn and Teller thinks about god? I am glad I read it. Aside from some awkwardly worded statements I think his description of why he believes there is no god is one of the best expressions of such a feeling I have seen.
Believing there’s no God means I can’t really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories. That’s good; it makes me want to be more thoughtful. I have to try to treat people right the first time around.
Penn Jillette has furthered my definition, or rather my understanding of humanism and has shown me a way to discuss things with people of different faiths.
Believing there’s no God stops me from being solipsistic. I can read ideas from all different people from all different cultures. Without God, we can agree on reality, and I can keep learning where I’m wrong. We can all keep adjusting, so we can really communicate. I don’t travel in circles where people say, “I have faith, I believe this in my heart and nothing you can say or do can shake my faith.” That’s just a long-winded religious way to say, “shut up,” or another two words that the FCC likes less. But all obscenity is less insulting than, “How I was brought up and my imaginary friend means more to me than anything you can ever say or do.” So, believing there is no God lets me be proven wrong and that’s always fun. It means I’m learning something.
Penn Jillette is smarter than either his politics or magic shows would have led me to believe.
Believing there is no God means the suffering I’ve seen in my family, and indeed all the suffering in the world, isn’t caused by an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent force that isn’t bothered to help or is just testing us, but rather something we all may be able to help others with in the future. No God means the possibility of less suffering in the future.
Amen, brother! Now let us all forget about planning for what’s next and focus on the here and now. Love the one you’re with. Don’t pine for and crave something else.
I am thinking it’s a sign that the freckles
In our eyes are mirror images and when
We kiss they’re perfectly aligned
And I have to speculate that God himself
Did make us into corresponding shapes like
Puzzle pieces from the clay
True, it may seem like a stretch, but
Its thoughts like this that catch my troubled
Head when you’re away when I am missing you to death
When you are out there on the road for
Several weeks of shows and when you scan
The radio, I hope this song will guide you home
They won’t see us waving from such great
Heights, ‘come down now,’ they’ll say
But everything looks perfect from far away,
‘come down now,’ but we’ll stay…
– The Postal Service, Such Great Heights